Letters to the Editor

Arts Council of Northern Ireland unfit for purpose and should be wound up

Tom Collins’s critique of Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI) chair John Edmund (October 16 ) makes passing reference to the staff of the council, many of whom have given years of sterling effort to supporting the arts in this region.

It must be frustrating for them to see their dedication and expertise undermined by the man at the top, whose own board has twice voted no confidence in him,
and whose public utterances have run directly contrary to the statutory purposes of the ACNI in supporting, encouraging and funding the arts. 

I work for a traditional arts organisation that has received Arts Council funding at varying levels for many years, all of which goes directly into delivering its artistic and educational activities rather than salary or other core costs. Despite my appreciation of the front-line staff who are the main point of contact for funded organisations, I have come to the view that the ACNI is unfit for purpose and should be wound up, with its functions absorbed into the Department for Communities or handed to an expert-led body with a genuine commitment to assisting and resourcing the arts.

Apart from the internal chaos mentioned by Tom Collins, a major failing of the ACNI leadership has been the skewing of funding towards two cities and the starvation of initiatives anywhere else. The Arts Council does not publicise how its spending compares across the region, so I will spare them the trouble. 
The allocations in any financial year, that is, ‘Core Exchequer’ funding, Lottery Programme funding and Lottery Project funding, can be mapped to the local government districts where the recipients are based. 

By my count, total ACNI funding in 2018-19, per head of population, was £32.41 for the Belfast City Council area. Derry and Strabane came next with £10.99 per capita. Then we fall off a cliff: North Down and Ards gets £1.42; Newry, Mourne & Down £1.24; Fermanagh & Omagh £1.13; Causeway Coast and Glens £1.07; Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon 97p; Mid Ulster 63p; Lisburn & Castlereagh City 31p; Antrim and Newtownabbey 14p, and Mid & East Antrim precisely nothing. 
This is scandalous and indefensible.

Local councils may be at fault for not ensuring that their communities have the capacity to pull in resources from what is meant to be a region-wide pool, but it should be the task of ACNI itself to get out there and pro-actively find, fund and grow local arts organisations. It certainly won’t achieve that under John Edmund, and I doubt that the current board and senior management are up to the task.
If we ever get a restored regional government, it must look south and learn from the 10 per cent budget increase in 2019 for the Republic’s Arts Council and 19 per cent more for the separate Creative Ireland programme. 
Sustaining and developing the arts is, as Tom Collins said, a driver of economic development, the more so when the funding is equitably distributed. 

Armagh City


Spare a thought for those who perished at hands of British army

It’s the time of year again when the divisive symbol of the British poppy gains prominence. Stoke City and Republic footballer James McClean has once more conducted himself with the utmost integrity as he refuses to wear that British military emblem. His principled stance stands in stark contrast to that of the management team of the Free State soccer squad. 

McClean’s reasoning is sound and clear and should be respected.

Proceeds from the sale of poppies go to the Royal British Legion who use the funds to assist former British service personnel. This includes any soldiers who have killed Irish civilians. In 1978, the SAS shot dead 16-year-old John Boyle in Dunloy. The MoD refused to acknowledge the injustice committed when that Irish youth was gunned down. The soldiers responsible received de facto immunity, as have many of their colleagues over the decades. The SAS gunmen involved that day continued to serve in the British army until 1990. They are today able to benefit from Royal British Legion funds gathered from the sale of poppies.

The poppy is a military symbol expressing support for all former British military personnel. Given the sordid history of such troops in Ireland and elsewhere, including Iraq, it must be wondered why any Irish nationalist would want to show support for them.        

Today, unionists of the Six Counties, the Free State and Britain are attempting to construct a false narrative of what really took place here. They have managed to persuade nationalists and some former republicans to buy into this insidious British state propaganda. 

Yet every poppy shows support for the force that killed 14 civilians in Derry on Bloody Sunday, 11 in Ballymurphy in August 1971, and more than 300 during Operation Banner. Only a handful of British soldiers were ever convicted of murder and even those killers were released quickly and reinstated in the military.

Perhaps, when supposed nationalists decide to support or don the British poppy, they could spare a thought for those who perished at the bloodied hands of the British army. Perhaps they could think about the families left behind, reminded of their loss every time they see a poppy. Perhaps there are those who should try to remember what the poppy really stands for. It is a symbol of imperialism, Irish oppression and a British military aversion to justice.

Newry, Co Down


Isle of Man leading way on abortion law reform

I am delighted that this week the House of Keys has voted to pass Dr Alex Allinson MHK’s Abortion Reform Bill 2018. This clearly confirms that the Isle of Man’s politicians agree that the current legislation is out of date and that the island’s women deserve better.

It will be the first jurisdiction in the British Isles to decriminalise abortion, meaning that those who choose to terminate a pregnancy will no longer be seen as criminals. They will also be able to access full reproductive healthcare at home, and no longer have to travel to clinics elsewhere.

Provisions in this Bill mean that people seeking abortions, or even those wanting to access counselling, will not be subjected to pressure from those who only want to frighten women or make them uncomfortable about any decision they’ve made, or which they might make as buffer zones around places which provide abortion services will also be possible once this Bill is enacted.

All those who require reproductive healthcare on the Isle of Man should be able to access safe, legal and most of all local abortion services. The issue of access for Northern Ireland has been on the Westminster agenda and we look forward to joining the Isle of man in their humane treatment of women sooner rather than later.

Green Party, South Belfast


Let us not forget

I was very touched and impressed by B Fox’s letter – ‘Defending communities during Troubles wasn’t an easy decision to make’ (October 26). We can’t deny the truth of this and feel the pain. God help us as so much was lost. Let us not forget.

Belfast BT11


Is this par for DUP course?

After seeing the front page of The Irish News (October 25) all I can say is with friends like Mervyn Storey and Christopher Stalford who needs enemies?
These two politicians have really shown themselves up for what they are. Is this par for the DUP course?

Belfast BT10

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